Dealing With a Partner Who Has a Dismissive Avoidant Attachment Style

Updated on June 20, 2016

Are you struggling to understand what went wrong?

A small proportion of the population has what is commonly referred to by psychologists as a dismissive avoidant attachment style. Due to the experiences of their childhood they tend to see relationships with others as painful and troubling, causing them to become highly self-reliant and dismissive of the need for human intimacy. Being with someone who has these characteristics can be frustrating and painful, particularly if you are the kind of person who is looking for a lot of affection and closeness in relationship. A person with a dismissive avoidant attachment style is unlikely to change, and if they do it will be through their own hard work and self-inquiry. It will definitely not be through your efforts! If you intend to stay happily in a relationship with such a person the best thing you can do is accept them as they are and learn to live harmoniously together.

Image: Copyright Gokhan Okur.

Learning through relationship

Relationships have the potential to teach you many valuable lessons and provide the challenges that are so important for our growth as human beings. Being with someone who has a dismissive avoidant attachment style can push you to explore your own need for attachment and what it is you are looking for when you enter and participate in intimate relationships. One of the things that can emerge as you explore this territory is an inability to love yourself due to a deep-seated belief in your own lack of worth. You therefore look to your partner to give you the reassurance you need to feel good about yourself. In such a case, being with someone who is dismissive avoidant can be extremely difficult, however with conscious intent it can also be used as a tool for self-growth.

Learning to meet your own emotional needs can be a challenging process, made almost impossible if your lover continuously bows to your emotional neediness and provides the support, or crutch, you are looking for. This can be especially problematic if their own emotional well-being is tied to the need to be needed, leading to the classic co-dependent dynamic where each person props up the other emotionally. This dynamic is rarely sustainable and most often destructive. In contrast, a dismissive avoidant is unlikely to provide you with such a crutch. Instead they will tell you in no uncertain terms, either directly or through emotional withdrawal, that you have to meet these needs for yourself.

Image: Copyright joeymc861.

Taking responsibility for yourself

Meeting your own emotional needs means taking responsibility for yourself. You do this through:

  • Becoming more self-aware and emotionally resilient either through counseling, journaling, meditation or other means of self-inquiry.
  • Learning to self-sooth and nurture yourself when you're feeling emotionally imbalanced. This may take many forms, from a quiet walk on the beach to reading an inspirational book.
  • Seeking emotional support through a diverse social network based on a healthy model of inter-dependence rather than demanding that your partner meets all your needs

Knowing when it's time to let go and move on

I am a firm believer in living at your edge while not pushing yourself over the edge! Being with a dismissive avoidant can help you become more emotionally mature, resilient and self-nurturing. But if you are not at a point where you can observe these dynamics and work with them it can be isolating and detrimental to your emotional and psychological wellbeing. Instead of becoming stronger and growing through the relationship you find yourself becoming more needy and anxious. A typical pursuer-distancer dynamic sets in where your increasing demands for intimacy cause your partner to back off from you and becoming more and more emotionally unavailable.

This kind of dynamic can be particular problematic when a dismissive avoidant is paired with someone who has an insecure anxious attachment style, a combination that is all too common. People with an anxious or preoccupied attachment style feel very insecure when they are not given the reassurance they need to feel ok. They worry a lot about whether their partner loves them and require direct displays of affection and intimacy in order to remain emotionally stable. As you can imagine these two individuals go together like fire and water, and yet somehow they are strangely attracted. Perhaps this is because they have so much to learn from each other.

Image: Copyright Sanja Gjenero.

Acknowledging when you are not coping

If your relationship with your dismissive avoidant partner has reached a stalemate and you are not coping you will notice a number of telltale signs:

  • You are using more and more manipulative behaviours in order to get your partner to react, or to give you the reassurance that you need.
  • You are obsessing about your partner, spending way too much time thinking about them and very little time attending to your own emotional well-being.
  • You feel a constant nagging need to change your partner or make them behave differently and you spend way too much time thinking about how you might make them do this.
  • Your level of anxiety is through the roof and yet you cannot seem to communicate this with your partner without the conversation turning nasty and blaming.
  • Your partner is becoming more and more emotionally distant, despite your repeated attempts to bring a greater sense of intimacy to the relationship.

Reaching out for help

If the relationship has become toxic counseling may be called for, or you may have to acknowledge that you need to spend time on your own before you are ready for this level of emotional challenge. This does not mean that you stop loving your partner, or that you blame them for the 'relationship not working out'. Your partner has their own lessons to learn from relationship but that is their problem. Your task is to look to your own emotional, psychological and spiritual needs and ask 'does this relationship serve me?' In the end, the success of failure or a relationship is not about how long it lasts but how two people grow as a result.

Books that might provide further insight

John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy)
John Bowlby and Attachment Theory (Makers of Modern Psychotherapy)

John Bowlby's work on attachment theory has profoundly changed our understanding of human relationships


Would you stay with someone who is dismissive avoidant?

See results
Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Put You in Control (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)
Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life: How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Can Put You in Control (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

An amazing book that helps you rise above those pesky feelings that confuse and distort reality. Understandably a bestseller.


Share your own experience... - Do you have any advice for others who may be struggling with this?

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Lisa 13 days ago

      This article was very helpful! My husband is most definitely dismissive avoidant. I am someone who needs a lot of assurance and get so frustrated when he is unable to provide affection. My husband comes from a severely dysfunctional family where he was never allowed to express himself. I even suspect abuse from his mother but he won’t talk about it. So, when you marry someone you are there to love and support them. We all have our limits to change. My husband is someone who will always refuse change. He is mostly afraid of having deep feelings. Even though it is very lonely to not get the love and affection I crave from him, I have to learn to self soothe and go for counseling. I love to talk things out and my husband can’t handle these things. When our kids are older and if I can support myself, who knows. It makes me so sad though.

    • profile image

      Paul 17 months ago

      Interesting article.

      I am starting to believe I'm in a relationship with a dismissive avoidant, while also recognising that I myself can behave in avoidant ways - although in relation to her I am acting and feeling anxious (trying not to act anxious but feeling it a lot).

      This woman formed a relationship with me as a way of escaping from a former relationship with a man who was emotionally unavailable - she said she wanted a partner who was more spontaneous and available.

      I suspect however that the reason she subconsciously was with him in the first place was because his avoidance up gave her space.

      Now she has left him, moved to a remote community with limited phone access and accessible only by boat, so she now has eternal freedom and is mostly uncontactable, does not respond to most text messages or phone calls - perhaps one in twenty she might respond to - initially she blamed the lack of contact on her ex being very controlling of her phone use, but then she moved so blamed it on poor phone signal - I bought her a better phone, but still she is unavailable mostly.

      I left the relationship three times before because I imagined lots of stuff - other men, alcohol or drug use - but she is so vague and evasive in most communication that my fears were mostly self-created (probably), however now we are trying again - I am trying to stay busy, meet my own needs emotionally however I've asked for more frequent communication, such as one or two text messages or phone calls a day, but it appears even this is too much.

      She never actually says it is too much, she simply doesn't ever call or text.

      Then maybe once every two days I happen to call at a convenient time and she answers and we have a lovely chat for maybe an hour - then after the call I know that it will be at least two days before I get to speak with her again, and even then only if I call maybe five or six times - she never calls me.

      In a way I'm glad to have read all this stuff - at least I now can understand what is happening - previously I just assumed she was deliberately leading me on while also cultivating other romances - she might be doing this but I doubt it - even if she is I think her behaviour is mostly unconscious and she is probably just unable to act differently - wow! Writing all this makes me feel a bit crazy for being so prepared to keep trying with her.

      It seems obvious that our relationship is unlikely to work - I do know she loves me and she says she loves to get my text messages and phone calls even though she doesn't reciprocate (if I express my need for reciprocation she tries for a few days but it must be very hard for her so she drifts back into her avoidant behaviour very quickly), so I'm holding onto a faint hope that she might be prepared to go to a relationship counsellor before we redevelop our closeness too much - I've specified no sex until we do more work - anyway the main thing is that being an alcoholic, I'm not using alcohol or other addictions to cope with my feelings around this stuff - probably why it feels do raw. I'm determined to stay focused on my own self care and happiness and to sit with my feelings when they come up - that way, even if this relationship fails, which is likely, I'll be more resilient and self aware for someone in the future.

    • profile image

      RengDeng 17 months ago


      The partners we choose and the things that attract us can say alot about ourselves.

      When we pair up with someone there is a very stong interplay of signals that we unconsciously send and pick up on. Signals that cannot be faked, as they are a product of our conscious but also our unconscious emotions.

      You end up with these women because you probably can 'sense' their vulnurability under a initial hard shell. As they are deeply insecure themselves (most of the time without knowing). You confuse the emotions they awake in you as emotions of 'love', because this is what you have learned during your childhood.

      We tend to match up with people of the same security levels (secure-secure, insecure-insecure), the reason why you are attracted to these women is because you probably have some emotional issues and insecurities yourself, which might be regarded to Intimacy (commitment and/or abandonment issues), you might dismiss the idea now, because you think you have been longing for intimacy with these women all the time. But for people with intimacy issues, relationships with other people with intimacy problems are relatively safe, as they are not open for building a real intimate connection too.

      Its almost impossible to find the cause of your attraction towards this type of women yourself, the experience of someone who is able look inside is needed, I strongly suggest you give a shot at counseling, these people have seen cases of you and me (yes I said that) dozens of times, and know where to look.

      Your childhood spends a significant role in this story, there is an elevated likelyhood that you have not been able to form a proper emotional connection with one (or both) of your parents, as thats often the cause of this type of issue. As a small child you would long for this never fully finalized connection, and you learned that the emotional distance you experienced in your childhood was love, and now you are attracted to women who represent this distance, as it triggers certain emotions in you.

      In my case the cause was my mother who was anxious and had depressive symptoms after my birth, this reduced her ability to form a good emotional connection with me, which led me to being dissmissive-avoidant in my relationship with them and others around me, I don't consciously experience the intimacy fears, but I do recognize the behavior patterns. Romantically i'm having an attraction to emotionally unavailable women, and have a desire to get emotionally intimate with them, which is impossible due to both of our issues.

      Don't try to look to deep inside yourself for the cause, as you do not have the knowledge and the lens through which you see yourself micht be a little distorted. Do the looking inside together with a counselor, he or she can guide you to the places you need to go, this will answer all of your questions and help you to get attracted to healthy people because you get alighned with your emotions, I cannot state how helpfull it is to reach out to someone who knows whats going on inside.

      I'm not an expert on the matter, but I somewhat know what i'm talking about, youre following the same path that I have been traveling.

      You looking for answers about yourself shows me you're on the right track, but don't stop when the emotions of your recent break-up have subsided, push through, as you will have to sooner or later to become the person you want to be and have the relationships that you really want and make you happy.

      You're free to hit me up if you want to get in contact, just post your email (I recomend an anonymous one) and i'll send you a message.

      Good luck.

    • profile image

      Piperson 17 months ago

      I find myself irresistibly drawn to avoidant people. I would love to have a healthy, nurturing relationship but I find most women uninteresting. For some reason i find avoidant women exciting to the point where i become obsessed with them, and can't stop thinking about them. When this happens, they become the focal point of my life and all the joy i have for life gets sucked out of it.

      Why is it that i am so drawn to unhealthy women?

      What can i do to get the healthy relationships with women that i crave?

    • profile image

      Elaine Wright 2 years ago

      Thanks for the insight. Iam on the edge of ending my marriage to a dismissive partner. I am struggling with resentment towards him. He can play the loving role for a period of time and when confronted with issues involving him I get negative responses or no response. He can be distant towards his own children and then over jolly when he feels like it. Its frustrating and confusing as we have only been married nearly 5 years after splitting for 9 years due to his drinking. Prior to that we had dated for 18 years. Now he has been alcohol free for 5 years and now a qualified counsellor about to complete level 5 in CBT. Plus he is a baptised christian. I feel cheated and feel I have let our children down. I gave him another chance because I blamed the drink for his dismissive behaviour but now I realise that this is his personality. I only wish I had waited a little longer as I believe his personality would have revealed itself and I could saved myself and our children the pain of being back in this situation again. As a christian myself I have faith that God will help me in making the right decision. I hope this helps someone else out there.

    • CampingmanNW profile image

      CampingmanNW 3 years ago

      Thanks for sharing an important but oft overlooked human condition. Especially in today's world.